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The Nature of Social Human Rights Treaties and Standard-Setting WTO Treaties: A Question of Hierarchy?

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Social human rights are not held to belong to the category of jus cogens norms. At the same time these human rights protect vital matters, such as the right to adequate food, which obviously has a relationship to the right to life. On the other hand, the annexes to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement, which are binding on all WTO member States, has implied a shift from the old General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to the WTO, from pure contractual treaties to more standard-setting treaties. The article seeks to analyse if the obligations erga omnes and the concept of 'multilateral obligations' are applicable to distinguish between human rights treaties on the one hand and WTO agreements on the other. The background of the analysis is also the work of the International Law Commission (ILC) Study Group on fragmentation of international law, finalised in 2006. The article finds that there is still uncertainty regarding the exact meaning of the term 'multilateral obligations'. Hence, other concepts such as 'absolute obligations' might be preferred in order to characterise human rights treaties, and hence implicitly acknowledge that treaties that protect vital matters may prevail over other treaties, based on the interests which are to be protected.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor at Diakonhjemmet University College in Oslo; haugen@diakonhjemmet


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